*Note* This series comes from an integrative theology paper that I wrote on the intersection of the doctrine of sin and identity development in young adolescent girls. You can read part one here and part two here.
Another trend that Orenstein saw in the young women in her study was a desire to be liked by young men. In the suburban school where she observed there was one young man in particular who was the object of affection for more than one of her subjects. Known for treating girls poorly, making up rumors about girls who refused him and asking girls to have sex even as a sixth grader this young man was still the desire of many girls. One girl in particular described an interaction with him:
he put his hand up my shirt, and I said, ‘no,’ but he kept doing it and I was too afraid to stop him because I liked him so much and I wanted him to like me. I thought it would make him like me more if I let him.
Like the awareness of the difference in experience between boys and girls, this desire to have a boyfriend, and to be in love even if the young man is a “jerk” remains a popular theme in both the real lives of young girls, and in the pop songs they listen to. Consider the song, “7 Things I Hate About You,” by Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana):
The 7 things I hate about you, oh you / You’re vain, your games, you’re insecure / You love me, you like her / You make me laugh, you make me cry / I don’t know which side to buy / Your friends, they’re jerks When you act like them, just know it hurts / I wanna be with the one I know And the 7th thing I hate the most that you do/ You make me love you
She then goes on to describe seven things she likes about this boy:
…Your hands in mine / When we’re intertwined, everything’s alright /I wanna be with the one I know /And the 7th thing I like most that you do / You make me love you, you do
Like the girls that Orenstein describes, Miley Cyrus feels complete and alright, only when she is with the one she loves. Even though he acts like a jerk.
Reviving Ophelia is another important book on identity development in Adolescent girls. It was also published in the 1990s and describes the process by which young adolescent girls conform to cultural expectations and lose their sense of self. The author, Mary Pipher, a clinical psychologist argues that the drop in self-esteem in young adolescent girls is due to young women coming to a realization that men and boys have power in our culture and that only by appearing submissive, passive and pleasing will girls hold any power. In adolescence, Pipher writes, cultural pressures around body image, sexism, capitalism (and the objectification of female sexuality to sell products) and perfectionism push girls to stop asking the question of “Who am I?” but to start asking, “What must I do to please others?” In other words, girls move from being their authentic self, to seeming to be the culturally defined ideal (false) self. If a girl speaks her mind truthfully or assertively she is labeled a bitch.
Pipher sites an example of the differing cultural expectations for men and women. People describe healthy men and healthy adults as having the same qualities, they describe healthy women as having quite different qualities than healthy adults. For example, healthy women were described as passive, dependent and illogical, while healthy adults were active, independent and logical. It seems then, that being a healthy woman and a healthy adult are mutually exclusive states of being.
The “hidden curriculum,” in school reinforces this idea of a “healthy woman.” While not explicitly taught, girls learn in school that off task behavior is more tolerated in boys than in girls, and because the young men get called on more often than girls they learn that silence and compliance are more important virtues in girls. Orenstein observed that when partnered with boys in a science lab, girls would fake helplessness even on simple tasks. Again, while her research is more than a decade old, this theme too is present in today’s pop music. Selena Goméz for example sings, “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”
Everybody tells me that it’s wrong what i’m feeling / I shouldn’t believe in /The dreams that I’m dreaming / I hear it every day /I hear it all the time /I’m never gonna amount to much
Middle School and Junior High School can be very destructive times for young adolescent girls. One of Pipher’s subjects told her, “Everything good in me died in junior high.”